USF professor receives grant to write in Greece

USF creative writing professor Nicolas Samaras has been granted the chance of a lifetime.

This summer, Samaras, along with his wife and two children, will head to Greece compliments of a $25,000 fellowship from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Samaras, a degree holder in Greek Orthodox theology and the child of a Greek Orthodox priest, has visited Greece on occasion, but this is the first opportunity he’s had to spend time there as a writer and observer, Samaras said.

“Anytime anyone gives you money to study and grow and make commentary on the human condition it’s prestigious,” Samaras said. “It gives me an opportunity to think outside the box and experience another culture.”

Samara, an author specializing in poetry, applied for the fellowship at the end of last summer and was notified of his selection in November. The money he receives will pay for expenses such as airline tickets, accommodations and food, as well as tickets to the 2004 Olympics.

Samaras’ initial focus was to write about the country’s monasteries and the appeal they have to many young Greek-Americans who go to Greece with the intention of becoming monks. But due to the proximity and coincidence of the Olympics, Samaras also plans to do work correlating the ancient Olympics with the modern games.

“I was interested in interviewing American-born and -bred citizens that want to go to Greece to be monks,” Samaras said. “Now, I will be enabled by the fellowship to attend and write upon the 2004 Athens Olympics respective of the spirit of competition, meditation and humanity through Olympic pursuits.”

Samaras said although the works may end up tying into each other, at this point, they are separate pursuits.

“The wonderful thing about writing poetry is that you can have the experience and write about it 20 years later,” Samaras said.

In fact, the only true end product Lilly Endowment Inc. will hold Samaras responsible for is a report that includes his observations and conclusion.

“(The fellowship) is an opportunity for developing original thought,” said Samaras. “Travel is crucial to original writing; it freshens your outlook and gives you new perspective.”

Samaras intends to complete the work inspired by his travels as early as six months after his return. Factors, including committee obligations and course load, will vary the time it takes Samaras to complete his work, he said.

But the people who will benefit the most from Samaras’ travels will be his students.

“I very much like to bring world culture to USF in my own way,” he said. “I teach poetry from a perspective of world culture. I’m very enthusiastic about it.”

Samaras’ enthusiasm also carries over to the university itself and the role he plays in it.

“I like the complexity, the energy, the great qualifications of staff and faculty and the opportunity to conduct fascinating coursework,” Samaras said.

Some of the fascinating coursework, Samaras added, includes a recently instituted master’s degree program with a concentration in creative writing, in which he teaches all of the poetry.

Samaras, who has taught at USF for three years, has also taught at Columbia University and the University of Denver, where he earned a doctorate in English. His first book, Hands of the Saddlemaker, won the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1992, while his second book, Survivors of the Moving Earth, published by the University of Salzburg Press in Austria, earned him international fans. He just completed his third book, a trade book on poetics, and is working on his fourth, a how-to book on poetry.

Despite his literary success, Samaras remains enthusiastic about teaching.

“I like to be able to bring invigoration to the field,” Samaras said.

Samaras said he loves Tampa and USF, but will need a tenure-track position in order to stay.

“Whenever they open the search for a tenure-track poet, I will be the first one to apply,” Samaras said.

Elena Ruiz-Aho, assistant to the English department chair and a former student of Samaras, said the professor is a wonderful asset to the English department and to USF.

“Besides being a great human being, (Samaras) is very personable in the sense that you can explore different forms of writing, and he doesn’t have a monopoly on truth,” Ruiz-Aho said. “He doesn’t tell you this is the way to write or that poetry has definite parameters. He gives you a great deal of breadth and room as a writer.”

Ruiz-Aho is excited about Samaras’ fellowship and said she has high hopes for what he will bring back with him.

“I hope he steals some good metaphors from the people,” said Ruiz-Aho. “I hope he keeps a camera in his eyes all of the time.”